2-Plants: India: GM Mustard put on hold
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TITLE: India: GM Mustard put on hold
SOURCE: AgBioIndia Mailing List
DATE: Nov 8, 2002
------------------ archive: http://www.gene.ch/genet.html ------------------
Subject: India: GM Mustard put on hold
In a clever move, ostensibly to escape public pressure, the Genetic
Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) of the Ministry of Environment and
Forests, which met at New Delhi on Nov 7, has 'deferred' its decision to
accord approval for commercial planting of genetically modified mustard --
the first genetically engineered food crop that is pending clearance.
The GEAC decision is merely an eyewash and is intended to buy time. No
additional research trials can be conducted in the next few weeks nor is
there a scientific competence within the country to examine its implication
on human health and environment in a month's time. What than is the GEAC
trying to achieve by 'deferring' its decision? What 'hard look' can the
committee take when it comprises only-one-and-a- half person?
Pro-Agro, the company that is pushing the GM mustard for clearance, was at
pains to explain to the media its 'great' scientific achievement.
Surprising that Pro-Agro, which conducted the research trials, has to
answer the public concerns whereas the GEAC remains quiet? It had all these
days claimed that the Bar gene (which imparts resistance to the herbicide,
glufosinate) in the mustard hybrid is present only as a 'marker', it is
learnt that a GEAC member provided concrete evidence that glufosinate
ammonium was very much in use thereby contradicting the claims of the
company. Glufosinate is registered for use in tea cultivation and is sold
under the name 'Basta'. It can easily be diverted for use in mustard once
the company gets approval for its herbicide-tolerant mustard. How do we
know that the other claims of the company are not equally fictitious?
This is already happening with DDT. The chemical is banned for application
in agriculture but is approved for use for health purposes (like malaria
eradication). Its a recognised fact that DDT finds its way into the
It is also believed that the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR)
had expressed 'dissatisfaction' at the inconclusive research data. The ICAR
is of the opinion that the trials should have been for a longer period
before any conclusions can be arrived at. But then, this is exactly what
the ICAR had said at the time the controversial approval was granted to Bt
cotton. The ICAR at that time (in June 2001) had wanted two more years of
research trials. Monsanto-Mahyco, which brought in the Bt cotton seeds, had
said no to any more trials. And finally as a compromise, the GEAC had asked
Monsanto-Mahyco to go in for one more year of trial. And so if you are
wondering whether the GEAC takes decisions on scientific basis, be clear
that it does not. It merely is interested to find a 'middle path'.
What is more shocking is that every crop variety that is commercialised in
India undergoes three years of extensive multi-location research trials
under the All-India Coordinated Crop Research Projects. An exception has
only been made for genetically modified crops, the crops for which there is
a greater need to conduct such extensive and exhaustive research trials.
The mere fact that it is not being done is a clear indication of the games
the multinational seed companies play. The reluctance of GEAC to make its
research data public, and its inability to involve various sections of the
society before an approval is granted is a clear pointer to the 'hush-hush'
manner in which genetically modified crops are being pushed through the
India is fast turning into the world's biggest dustbin for the discredited
genetically modified technology. The Bt cotton debacle, and that too in the
first crop season after its approval, is indicative of the shape of things
to come. With Europe holding on to the moratorium, and even Scotland
banning GM crop research trials, and the new Brazilian President announcing
that his country will remain GM-free, the industry has moved onto India. No
wonder, the secretary of the Department of Biotechnology, continues to get
an extension after extension, something that is unprecedented in the
history of Indian bureaucracy.
Some NGOs have therefore appealed to the Chief Vigilance Commissioner to
assess whether there is corruption and irregularities involved in the
functioning of the government agencies, including the GEAC and the
Department of Biotechnology.
GM mustard put on hold
By Chandrika Mago
The Times of India, Nov 8, 2002
NEW DELHI: The Union government has deferred a decision on whether to
permit genetically-modified mustard to hit the market. Agricultural
scientists and health officials, among others, will take "a good hard look"
at existing data to decide if the benefits of higher productivity outweigh
the risks to health and local varieties of mustard.
"This would be the first transgenic crop which is a hundred per cent food
product," said A M Gokhale, chairman of the inter-ministerial genetic
approval engineering committee (GEAC) which met Thursday to decide its
response to an application from the firm ProAgro, backed by the
multinational firm Aventis.
GEAC, unable to reach any agreement, may meet again in a few weeks for a
final view on whether it will permit or reject GM mustard, or whether it
considers more trials, with more specific parameters, necessary.
Caution was the watchword as the committee met for three and a half hours
Thursday morning at Paryavaran Bhawan, amid protests from NGOs and a flood
of emails appealing against clearance. The only members missing were
representatives of the commerce and external affairs ministries.
ProAgro made a 90-minute presentation which left the field open to
differing interpretations on issues such as the possibility of damage to
other species, productivity and human health. "There was no unanimity on
interpreting certain results," said Gokhale.
"We have to be much more careful with mustard than with cotton," added the
GEAC chairman. The plant's reproductive biology is very different and the
mustard family is a big one capable of being decimated by an aggressive
intruder. Genetically-modified, insect-resistant cotton was cleared for
commercial sale seven months ago.
Essentially, the fears are on three fronts. First, health. The company has
conducted trials on safety of oil but there isn't any data on the safety of
mustard leaf, used as a vegetable.
Second, the very real risk to traditional varieties of mustard. It is
possible the bacterial and herbicide-resistant genes introduced into
ProAgro's mustard could transfer, singly or wholly, to a local variety and
lead to the loss of local species. There are examples of such transfers and
"superweeds" abroad. Even if the probability is small, is the risk
Third, will the gains on productivity outweigh this risk? Higher seed and
oil productivity claims range between 15 and 30 per cent, depending on the
region. GM mustard may not be useful in all the areas for which it is
cleared, but control will be difficult to exercise once GEAC clearance has
ProAgro's Director (research) Paresh Verma had accepted there was a
"limited possibility" of threat to another cultivated species of mustard.
This is grown in cooler climes while the species they are interested in
grows in UP, MP, Haryana, Rajasthan and Gujarat. The two species do grow
together in a few districts, in Punjab for instance.
Verma had also said the herbicide-tolerant marker gene would make little
difference in India, since the herbicide in question - the firm's own - is
not approved for sale here. On Thursday, GEAC learnt this herbicide is used
here, in tea gardens. NGOs have been describing this as an attempt to kill
two birds with one stone - sell an alien seed and promote your own
(AgBioIndia launched a campaign against the commercial release as soon as
it came to know of the GEAC meeting and its agenda. Read the newsletter
released on November 3:
[Alert]: GM Mustard awaits approval
The AgBioIndia mailing list is an effort by the Forum for Biotechnology &
Food Security to bridge the yawning gap in our understanding of the
politics of food. We believe this mailing list will create wider awareness
and understanding of the compexities of the crisis facing Indian
agriculture and food security. This list will keep you posted on the
intricacies and games being enacted in the name of eradicating hunger.
It is a non-commercial educational service for non-profit organisations and
individuals. Subscribers are welcome to contribute information.
You can view previous issues at http://www.agbioindia.org/archive.asp
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